THE SALT OF THE EARTH
By Pastor Glenn Pease
We take salt for granted because it is both abundant and available. This has not always been the case for Americans. Back in 1778 the salt supply began to run short in Boonsbourogh. This was a serious problem, for the pioneers needed salt to cure their meat and hides, and they also considered it one of their few pleasures among their many hardships. They had to make their own salt by filling large kettles with salt water, and boiling it down. It was an enormous job, for it took 840 gallons of water to get a bushel of salt. That bushel was very precious, and worth a cow and a half. Daniel Boon use to make his own salt like this, and not only was it hard work, it was dangerous. The springs, called salt licks, where they got the water were always risky places to be. The Indians kept an eye on them for taking scalps, and white hunters kept an eye on them for game. Boon had to take a large armed party with him to get the water, for without a show of force you could easily lose your life in your search for salt.
We cannot really conceive of the price men have paid to get salt. The risk and the labor they endured is foreign to us. We flop down a little change, and we are set for weeks, and even months with our salt supply. It is beyond us to imagine ever needing to pray for salt.
In our culture we often need to pray for help to leave it alone, for it can create high blood pressure, and other health problems. But this has not been the case for all believers in all cultures.
A missionary family in the Congo, many years back, used salt in trading with the natives. The natives just loved it, and would make good trades for it. But they ran out before the next shipment arrived, and were really feeling the loss. Their health was even being affected. They prayed that somehow they could get a supply of salt. They never dreamed how God might answer such a prayer. A white man who lived alone in the Congo wanted to give the daughter of the missionary a gift. The nearest toy store was a thousand miles away, so he decided to make her a doll. It was a Raggedy Ann type doll, and she so loved that gift she hugged it and squeezed it until one day the insides began to leak out. They discovered it was stuffed with salt. The whole family was so grateful they knelt on the floor and thanked God for their salt-baby. It was a precious gift to them all. It was a gift better than money to them, but salt and money do have something in common.
They have both been used to pay men for their labor and service. In Roman times salt rations were part of the Roman soldiers pay. It was very important to them, and revolts were threatened when salt was not received. Can you imagine going on strike because your company did not supply you with salt? You can if you realize the word salary means
salt money. The saying, a man is not worth his salt, comes from ancient times, and means he is not worth what he is being paid. Salt cakes have been used for money in Tibet, Abyssinia, and China once ranked it next to gold in value.
Salt has been like money because salt has always been of great value to man. Man is a mammal, and all mammals are salt craving creatures by God's design. We have all watched monkeys search through each others hair and pick out something, and then eat it.
Most of us have assumed they were finding fleas, or lice, but Zoology experts tell us they are searching for salt. Salt exudes from the pores, and remains on loose bits of skin. It is these salty chunks of skin they are looking for. Much like humans digging into their bag of chips, the monkeys are enjoying a salty snack. Salt is a necessity in the mammal diet, and where salt is lacking animals have been known to journey hundreds of miles to get to a salt spring to satisfy their need.
Salt has played a major role in the history of man. A Latin proverb says, "Nothing is more useful than the sun and salt." Tacitus, the Roman historian, tells us that during the reign of Nero two German tribes fought a war for the control of an area that produced salt in abundance. We need to see salt from this historical perspective so we can see, that for most believers in history, when Jesus said, you are the salt of the earth, they would hear this as Jesus saying, you are a vital and valuable part of the whole earthly system. Jesus left the church in the world to have an influence on it, and to make a world of difference in it. As the salt of the earth, and the light of the world, Jesus expected His followers to have an impact on every aspect of human history. One of the great values of a liberal arts education is that it makes you aware that the expectation of Jesus was fulfilled. Christians have penetrated every field of human knowledge, and have had an influence on its development.
God likes salt. That sounds strange to our ears, but it is a Biblical fact. We read in Lev. 2:13, "You shall season all your cereal offerings with salt, you shall not let the salt of the covenant with your God be lacking from your cereal offerings; with all your offerings you shall offer salt." In Num. 18:18, God refers to the everlasting covenant of salt, and in II Chron. 13:5 we read, "The Lord God of Israel gave the kingship over Israel forever to David and his sons by a covenant of salt."
Salt is a major factor in Old Testament worship, and the Jews used an enormous amount of salt. It is easy to see why this was a necessity with all of the sacrifices, and much of the meat needing to be preserved for the priests and their families. It is no wonder it became a Jewish proverb, "The world can get along without pepper, not without salt." Salt is a vital and valuable part of life, and so it makes sense why Jesus said we are the salt of the earth. What salt does in the physical realm, Christians are to do in the world of people. Salt does two basic things that we want to focus on. It prevents, and it promotes. Sometimes it does both at the same time. It prevents ice from forming, and thus promotes safe driving. This two-fold power and influence of salt is what Jesus wants us to be as Christians. He wants us to be salt that works as a preventer and a promoter.
I. SALT AS A PREVENTER.
Salt is a great preventer of decay and corruption. It was to the ancient people what the refrigerator is to us. Preservation of foods depended upon the use of salt. If Christians do not prevent corruption in the world, they are worthless salt in this area. Christians have
many times prevented the evil influence of men from making life totally rotten. Many are the stories of such preserving influence in the days of Hitler. Corrie Ten Boom is familiar to most, but there were many others who did not become famous like her. Hans and his wife were just married, and they planned to leave Holland for the mission field. Just then the Germans invaded, and all doors were closed.
One day Hans found a little Jewish boy in the alley. His mother had been taken by the Gestapo, and he was left homeless. They took him in as the first of 450 Jewish orphans they adopted. It was forbidden to hide a Jew, but they had 450 hidden in the homes where they had persuaded people to take the risk. Hans had to keep all 450 names and addresses in his head, for keeping a list could be fatal to all of them if it was found. They knew a Christian printer who printed up 450 ration books a month for them, so that food could be purchased. This was also a crime, but it was a crime according to those who held them prisoners in their own land.
Hans was once picked up by the Gestapo, and was asked if he was hiding Jewish children. He did what David once did in the Old Testament when he was taken by the enemy. He acted like a idiot. He let his jaw hang loose, and acted dumb. The officer said, "He is crazy-kick him out." He was pushed out on the sidewalk. He was a worthless nobody to them, but he was vital salt to preventing evil from being so rotten that the whole society would decay, and lose its sense of all that was right. His saltiness kept basic values alive, so people could still taste the delicious and exciting side of life. Thousands of Christians prevented Hitler's Germany from being the putrid carcass it would have been had all submitted to his satanic goals.
Every Christian has an obligation to have a positive influence in their society. This means the door is open for Christians to be involved in all aspects of society. Never swallow the idea that Christians should not be in politics, or on the school board, or in all community organizations. The only way the salt can do its job is by being out of the shaker, and on the food. If our salt never makes a difference in the world, it is just more matter that doesn't matter. God considers the presence of salt in a society very seriously.
If there had been only 10 righteous people in Sodom, He would have spared it. God holds out hope for any society where there is a good fraction of salt mixed in. Being a minority is not a problem, for a little is all it takes to make a big difference. Nobody wants the majority of any dish to be salt. Only a fraction of the whole makes the whole taste so much better. Eliminate all of the negative thoughts about being inadequate, or two small, or saying you don't have enough power. All it takes is a tiny influence to make a major impact.
The disciples of Jesus would have no problem grasping what He meant. Most of them were fishermen. You can imagine how necessary salt was in their job. The fish would rot so fast in that warm climate without salt to preserve them until they delivered the fish to their customers. Salt was vital to their livelihood. It was no luxury, but a necessity, and they would grasp that Jesus is saying, the world cannot survive without Christians. If all of Christian influence was removed from the world, God would have to destroy it as He did Sodom, for it would be rotten beyond endurance. As salt, we quench the stench that would otherwise rise to heaven and bring forth wrath. If the world is not less rotten because you are in it, then you are salt that has lost it saltiness, and Jesus says you are not good at all
for accomplishing God's purpose.
Jesus, you recall, said that those who lose their lives find them. That is, those who become salt in the world will need to give up their isolation. The salt will have to get out of the shaker and be dissolved to do any good. The Christian can only fulfill his purpose by losing the self-centered life, and getting involved in relationships to others. That is the only way salt can accomplish its purpose. Wesley knew he was building on these words of Christ when he wrote, "Christianity is essentially a social religion; and that to turn it into a solitary one is to destroy it." If your Christian life has no influence on others, you are salt with no saltiness.
The Pharisees approach to life was to withdraw from the sinner, and watch him rot into ruin, and then revel in self-righteousness for being so superior, and saying, "I thank God I am not like that." The approach of Jesus is quite opposite. He says get involved, and touch the world, and make a difference, and revel in seeing the rotten restored. There is no pleasure in heaven over the sin of any life, but there is joy in heaven over every sinner who repents and escapes ruin. Our job in the world is to prevent man's sinful nature from dominating so that man can see the value of the redeemed nature, and turn to Christ, and live. You need to prevent your own loss of saltiness in order to prevent the world from going rotten. The second thing we see is-
II. SALT AS A PROMOTER.
Salt not only prevents decay, it promotes delight. Just by preserving things from rotting, it adds to the delight of eating, for nobody could enjoy rotting fish, or other meats. But after it preserves things, salt adds to their value by making them taste better. It is not enough to keep something from rotting. It must be made palatable and tasty. Who has not had the pleasure of adding salt to flat and insipid gravy, and make it come alive with flavor to the taste buds? That is what the Christian is to do to life-give it some zest and zing. Christians are to be the most powerful force in the world for adding to life's pleasures.
Where the idea ever came from that Christians are to be the vinegar of life, to make it sour or bitter, I don't know, but we know that it didn't come from Jesus, who came that we might have life abundant. He added flavor to every aspect of life. That is why the common people heard Him gladly, and loved Him so. That is why He was so liked by the Publicans and Sinners. He knew how to enjoy life, and live with gusto. The Pharisees could not stand it, and accused Him of being a winebibber and a glutton. All He wanted out of life was one big party after another. Always in the wedding mood He was, and they accused Him of not being serious enough. They were way too serious. Even a funeral was too light-hearted for their gloomy souls. They made religion a dark and heavy burden, so tasteless, that only those with a heart of a monk could find it appealing.
Jesus rejected this tasteless religion, and He said, true righteousness is tasty and tangy, and adds to the excitement of living. Let the Pharisees have their eggs without salt, but not the Christian. He is to add flavor to all of life so that religion is enjoyable. Prayer does not need to be a dull drag. It should be fun to talk to God just as it is fun to talk to anyone you love and appreciate. Church is not to be a bore. It is to be a joy you anticipate. The whole of life is to be more delightful because of the salt which adds to the flavor.
Someone wrote, "A king asked his three daughters how much they loved him. Two replied that they loved him better than silver and gold, but the third said, "Father, I love you better than salt." The king was very angry at such a comparison. But the cook who overheard the remark left the salt out of the kings breakfast. Then the king understood that his daughter loved him so well that nothing was good without him. Salt then adds taste and flavor to all that it touches. If it has been omitted from any food, we know what it wrong at once. The religion of Jesus is a way to make life taste good."
One little boy said, "Salt is what makes the potatoes taste bad when its left out." Vance Havner, the great evangelist and author, wrote, "The besetting sin of our Christianity today, in private and public, is insipidity. There is no taste to most of it. Drop into the average mid-week prayer meeting and no further word will be necessary. We need not be amazed that the world pays no heed and passes by. We seem to conspire with the devil to make the meeting as dull and flat as we know how, and anything that might suggest color, tone, zest, and relish, is promptly suppressed. Of course, in desperation many have gone to the other extreme and imported swing bands and tap dancers to enliven the proceedings. But there is nothing else so rich and full of flavor as the grace of God, and only our spiritual poverty is to blame for our savorless living......There is something wrong with an uninteresting Christian."
As salt, the Christian is to make life taste better. Salt does its job silently and invisibly to bring out the best in what can be seen. Many famous Christians, who have an appeal to the masses, make life taste better because of the unseen work of many who are never known. They are the salt that makes the finished product taste so good. Every Christian needs to ask themselves, do I bring out the best in those around me." Is my environment better and more pleasing to others because I am a part of it? Life is full of boring situations. It is the challenge of the Christian to add some flavor and excitement by striving to relate every experience to the purpose of God. God is interested in everything, and the Christian who is the salt of the earth can use everything, and every subject to wet people's appetite to know God better. Salt promotes thirst, and the Christian is to create in people a desire for the water of life.
Jesus does not say, you should be, you can be, you may be, you will be, but, you are the salt of the earth. It is not a matter of choice. The Christian is salt whether he likes it or not. He may be one of the two kinds of salt. He may be the working kind, or the worthless kind, but he is salt. Have you ever wondered why God made this world with so much salt water? It is no accident that vast oceans of salt water cover a large portion of the earth.
Without them the whole earth would become polluted and uninhabitable. The salt of the world is the salvation of the world. These salty seas receive all the pollution of the world's rivers, and by the cleansing power of their salt they sweeten these waters and heal the poisons, and provide a resource for fresh water to cover the earth. Salt is vital to all of life. We need to see that Jesus considers all Christians as a part of His plan to save the world by being the salt of the earth. In the light of all this, you need to ask yourself, How salty am I?